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What is Tertiary Syphilis?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) for which there are different stages. A person who has tertiary syphilis has reached a late stage of the STD. This stage of syphilis is the most serious, and an affected person may suffer from a range of complications because of it, including damage to his eyes, hearing, bones, skin, nervous system, and even his heart. In some cases, a person with tertiary syphilis is eventually disabled, and some people may even die from the disease. Fortunately, if syphilis is detected early, a person may never reach the tertiary stage; an early case of syphilis can usually be treated successfully.

An individual who has tertiary syphilis has typically passed through two stages of the disease, which are referred to as primary and secondary syphilis. While there are symptoms at both of these stages, some people may not seek treatment. In fact, some may decide not to seek medical attention because their symptoms eventually go away. The problem with this is that a person may spend a significant amount of time without symptoms yet still be infected with syphilis. For example, a person may begin the tertiary stage up to 15 years after a primary infection, and before it develops, he may go through a latent stage in which there are no symptoms.

It’s important to note that some people who have syphilis never develop tertiary-stage symptoms. Up to 30 percent of infected people do develop them, however. Once this stage is reached, a person may suffer from damage to various parts of his body, including his nervous system, brain, and heart. A person's eyes may be affected, and an individual may even suffer damage to his blood vessels and bones. Sometimes an affected person’s liver may be damaged as well.

When a person has tertiary syphilis, he may exhibit a range of symptoms. In some cases, for example, a person with this condition may exhibit jerky movements or experience paralysis in parts of his body. In some cases, numbness is a symptom of tertiary syphilis, and dementia may occur as well. An individual with this condition may also go blind gradually. When the damage caused by tertiary syphilis is severe, the complications it causes may even lead to death.

Treatment for tertiary syphilis may depend on how long a person has been infected. Syphilis treatment is most effective when the disease is in its earliest stages. Antibiotics are typically used in the treatment of syphilis. Unfortunately, however, antibiotics may not prove helpful for nervous system damage in the late stage of the disease. Additionally, medication cannot repair damage a person has already suffered because of this disease.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

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Discussion Comments
By anon114580 — On Sep 29, 2010

I am really worried about my sister who has recently found out she has passed through the first two stages of syphilis? What are the chances she will make a full recovery?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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